This article explores some of the factors shown to impact school staff’s readiness for change and recommends 4 promising approaches.
How ready is your school for change?

To support their students’ ever-evolving learning and development needs, as well as respond to external pressures, schools regularly introduce and implement new initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. However, despite the best efforts of school leadership and staff, many of these initiatives fail to become embedded in schools and, as a result, don’t produce the anticipated impact. A high level of organisational readiness for change has long been considered an important predictor of how successful the implementation of a new program, model or initiative will be. This article explores some of the factors shown to impact school staff’s readiness for change and recommends 4 promising approaches for how school leaders can conceptualise, consider and increase readiness for change at their school. Organisational readiness for change hasn’t received much attention in educational settings. However, there is growing evidence that change initiatives in educational settings are more likely to succeed if those settings are ‘ready for change’.

Motivation

How motivated are individuals to change?

  • Can they see the need for the change?
  • Can they see the benefits of the change?
  • Does it align with their values and beliefs?

Capacity

Do individuals have the capacity to change?

  • Do they have the resources (including time) they require?
  • Do they have the knowledge they require?
  • Are school structures (for example, IT systems) in place to support the change? ·
  • Does the organisational culture support change initiatives? Is change valued and prioritised? Are missteps accepted and learnt from?
  • Are colleagues and school leaders supportive of the change?

Capacity should be considered as falling into two types:

  • General capacity – Does the school have structures, processes and/or organisational values that underpin an organisational climate that attaches value and status to the introduction of new initiatives?
  • Specific capacity – Has the school developed specialised strategies that target the new initiative’s stipulated changes? A school with a high general capacity for change may still encounter barriers to implementing a new initiative if they haven’t considered and developed strategies that specifically address the changes the new initiative requires.

A high level of organisational readiness for change can be achieved if individuals within an organisation are both motivated and have the capacity to change. Sustained readiness for change can be maintained by school leaders who regularly assess their staff’s readiness for change and address identified barriers.

A variety of factors affect school staff’s motivation (or willingness) and capacity for change. These typically fall into one of 4 categories, as outlined by the conceptual model for readiness and factors affecting readiness for change (see Figure 1) developed by Halle et al. (2019).

Figure 1: Conceptual model for readiness and factors affecting readiness for change by Halle et al. (2019). Public domain.
Figure 1: Conceptual model for readiness and factors affecting readiness for change by Halle et al. (2019). Public domain.

Gaining a better understanding of your staff’s motivation and capacity to change will allow you to identify barriers to and facilitators of change at your school. This allows you to directly address concerns identified by staff and to increase their readiness for change before and during the implementation of a new initiative.

Promising approach 1

Take a change leadership approach

New initiatives are more likely to be successfully implemented in schools where change is done not ‘to’ but rather ‘with’ members of your school community.

Research has shown that school staff place great importance on their input into implementation planning being sought, valued and utilised. This can increase staff satisfaction with the implementation process, leading to an increase in the likelihood of implementation success.

Considerations and Strategies

  • Acknowledge the difference between simply announcing a change and the complexity of making it happen.
  • Consider the change process as a collaboration between school leadership, staff and the wider school community.
  • Recognise and meet with all stakeholders and identify their needs, as well as their barriers to change.
  • Co-design a comprehensive implementation plan with stakeholders that addresses all identified needs and ensures that stakeholders understand what successful implementation will look like.
  • Regularly review and update the implementation plan in collaboration with stakeholders.
  • Regularly evaluate the success of the implementation process and celebrate implementation milestones.

Promising approach 2

Evaluate your staff’s motivation and capacity to change before the implementation of the new initiative

Understanding the motivation and capacity of your staff to change increases the likelihood that barriers and facilitators of change in your school will be identified.

Researchers have identified several factors that influence staff readiness for change including:

  • perceived need for the initiative
  • existing stress levels
  • existing workload levels
  • reward for change (for teachers this is often a positive change in student outcomes)
  • completing priorities, including other new initiatives and programs
  • alignment with pedagogical beliefs and values
  • school cohesion
  • self-efficacy
  • access to resources (including time)
  • perceived leadership support
  • perceived peer support
  • perceived likelihood of sustained use of the new initiative over the longer term
  • perception of professional development materials
  • transparency of communication
  • level of autonomy.

Considerations and strategies

  • Consider the different stakeholder groups in your school the new initiative might impact including:
    • classroom teachers
    • specialist teachers
    • learning aides
    • casual relief teachers
    • administrative staff
    • school council
    • parent helpers.
  • Separately meet with each stakeholder group to understand their motivation and capacity to change:
    • Be transparent about the changes the new initiative will require – What barriers do your different stakeholder groups identify?
    • What facilitators do your different stakeholder groups identify?

Promising approach 3

Incorporate readiness for change feedback into your new initiative’s implementation planning

Incorporating solutions to identified barriers to change and leveraging identified facilitators of change into your implementation plan can increase the likelihood of implementation success.

A contextualised implementation process will increase the likelihood of implementation success in your school community so use stakeholder feedback to develop an implementation plan that incorporates and addresses barriers and facilitators to change.

Considerations and strategies

  • Acknowledge levels of staff readiness for change in your implementation plan, using the data you collect about potential barriers from each of your stakeholder groups to inform your implementation planning.
  • Contextualise the implementation plan for each stakeholder group:
    • Provide stakeholders with opportunities to contribute to implementation planning including contributing to strategies that aim to reduce stakeholder-identified barriers.
    • For each barrier-addressing strategy, create SMART goals and an action plan, and nominate a responsible person (ideally a member of the stakeholder group who identified the barrier) to implement the action plan.
    • Check in regularly with the responsible person. Provide implementation support as required. When the SMART goal time line expires, work with the responsible person to evaluate the success of actions taken. If the SMART goal hasn’t been achieved, revise the goal and continue to work on addressing or reducing the barrier to change.

Promising approach 4

Regularly consider readiness for change during the new initiative’s implementation life cycle

Regularly revisiting the motivation and capacity of school staff to change across the life cycle of the new initiative’s implementation will identify emerging challenges before they impact implementation success.

Researchers acknowledge that the implementation of a new initiative typically takes 2–4 years to become embedded in a school’s organisational culture.

Fluctuating levels of readiness for change should be anticipated and expected across the implementation life cycle of a new initiative. Factors including the arrival of new staff, changing school priorities and increased workload and stress levels are common issues that can stall implementation success.

Considerations and strategies

  • Communicate with staff that the implementation of the new initiative is expected to take 2–4 years.
  • Accept and plan for fluctuations in your staff’s readiness for change as part of the implementation process.
  • Meet regularly with stakeholders across the 2–4 year implementation life cycle to review changes in their motivation and capacity to change –
    • Update implementation plans to incorporate fluctuations in readiness for change, as well as identified barriers and facilitators of change.
    • Use SMART goals and action plans to address newly identified barriers to change.

Summary

This research has identified 4 promising approaches school leaders can use to conceptualise, consider and increase their staff’s readiness for change. By

  • taking a change leadership approach
  • considering staff’s motivation and capacity to change
  • incorporating feedback into implementation planning
  • regularly reviewing levels of readiness for change

School leaders can create an environment where their staff are more ‘ready for change’ across the implementation life cycle of a new initiative. By increasing their school staff’s level of readiness for change, school leaders will boost the likelihood of the new initiative succeeding in their school.

References

Bliss, C. M., & Wanless, S. B. (2018). Development and initial investigation of a self-report measure of teachers’ readiness to implement. Journal of Educational Change, 19(2), 269–291. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-018-9324-5

Halle, T., Partika, A., & Nagle, K. (2019). Measuring readiness for change in early care and education (OPRE Report #2019-63). Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

McKnight, K. M., & Glennie, E. J. (2019). Are you ready for this? Preparing for school change by assessing readiness (RTI Press Publication No. PB-0020-1903). RTI Press. https://doi.org/10.3768/rtipress.2019.pb.0020.1903

Peterson, S. M. (2013). Readiness to change: Effective implementation processes for meeting people where they are. In T. Halle, A. Metz & I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.), Applying implementation science to early childhood programs and systems. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Scaccia, J. P., Cook, B. S., Lamont, A., Wandersman, A., Castellow, J., Katz, J., & Beidas, R. S. (2015). A practical implementation science heuristic for organizational readiness: R = MC2. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(4), 484–501. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.21698

Wanless, S. B., & Domitrovich, C. E. (2015). Readiness to implement school-based social-emotional learning interventions: Using research on factors related to implementation to maximize quality. Prevention Science, 16(8), 1037–1043. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-015-0612-5

Weiner, B. J. (2020). A theory of organizational readiness for change. In P. Nilsen & S. A. Birken (Eds.), Handbook on implementation science. Edward Elgar Publishing.

About Kate Scott

Kate is a Research Fellow and PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on how teacher readiness for change impacts new program implementation in schools. She has an extensive background in project management, with expertise in school-based research projects, as well as healthcare project implementation. Kate has presented her work at conferences and at stakeholder sessions. She has a Master of Teaching (Primary) from the University of Melbourne.